Byers 'tried to bury' road charge plans

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Indy Politics

Stephen Byers was accused yesterday of trying to "bury" sensitive proposals for congestion charges on roads by publishing them on the day of the Queen Mother's funeral.

The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions posted a series of controversial reports recommending road-user charges on its website without any publicity on Tuesday, when much of the country was focused on events at Westminster Abbey.

Last night the department denied it was deliberately trying to "bury bad news". The reports propose introducing congestion charges on roads including the M25, the M6 in the West Midlands and the congested M1 in the east Midlands.

The blunder, which has caused embarrassment in Whitehall, was blamed as an error made by officials who had not appreciated the sensitivity of the timing. Stephen Byers and his advisers were said yesterday to have been unaware that the reports had been put out. But last night one frustrated aide said: "God knows why it was put up on the website that day."

The Department of Transport deliberately shelved several announcements planned for Tuesday, which included new rules on removing abandoned cars, to avoid accusations that it was sneaking bad news out under cover. Jo Moore, Stephen Byers' adviser, resigned after a feud within the department that began when she said in a notorious e-mail that 11 September would be a good day to "bury bad news".

Yesterday, the Conservatives condemned the decision to publish the controversial proposals on Tuesday but a spokesman for the department said: "The studies were produced by consultants hired to try to sort out traffic problems. They were in a pile of things set to go out this week. We put about 200 things out a week on the website. It was officials and nothing to to with ministers."